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Moral Pronouncements aren’t enough: Artprize, the DeVos Family and Trump’s Executive Orders

February 10, 2017

Yesterday, Artprize made an announcement on their website that appears to be a response to some of the recent Executive Orders coming from the Trump administration, particularly the anti-immigrant, anti-refugee and anti-Muslim policies.screen-shot-2017-02-10-at-11-49-08-am

Here is part of what the ArtPrize announcement stated: 

ArtPrize operates according to a Mission and a set of Guiding Principles. Recently the ground shifted, and so far the policies and statements of the current  administration have made what were once broadly agreeable sentiments into urgent calls to action.The ArtPrize team is committed to these principles so we’re  compelled to speak out. ArtPrize opposes any efforts to:

  • Discriminate against anyone based on religion, race, gender, sexual identity, physical ability or economic status. 
  • Detain or persecute refugees and immigrants. 
  • Limit or undermine a free press or freedom of speech.  
  • Prevent any child in the United States from accessing a quality education that includes the arts and humanities.

While such a pronouncement is nice and all, it effectively does nothing to address the reality that is faced by immigrants, refugees and Muslims, based on the recent Executive Orders.

No doubt this pronouncement is also influenced by the recent confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, who is the mother of ArtPrize founder Rick DeVos. This seems evident based on the fourth point in the ArtPrize announcement, which says ; Prevent any child in the United States from accessing a quality education that includes the arts and humanities.

Show us the money!

Here are some reasons why the pronouncement is essentially meaningless.

  1. The US government’s negative treatment towards immigrants, refugees and Muslims is nothing new. ArtPrize first came on the scene in 2009, after the Obama administration took office. During his administration more undocumented people have been detained and deported than any previous administration. This included an escalation in the detention of families. So why now?  

2. This announcement is fundamentally a PR stunt aimed to head off any potential or additional anger that might be directed at ArtPrize because of the growing animosity towards the Betsy DeVos confirmation and the increased exposure to the DeVos family history as a result of the nomination and eventual confirmation. 

3. ArtPrize was founded by Rick DeVos, receives a tremendous amount from the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation on an annual basis, gets money from other DeVos family members and the circle of friends that they associate with, like the Seechia, Jandernoa, John Kennedy, etc. These people are all part of the West Michigan power structure that continues to support reactionary policies around labor issues, LGBTQ issues, as well as, promoting a Neoliberal Capitalist model. These people also a major contributors to the Republican Party at the state and federal level. In other words, their funding helped bring about the election of Donald trump. Therefore, unless ArtPrize is willing to stop receiving funds from these major contributors to the GOP, the announcement is essentially meaningless.

4. Lastly, the only real action that ArtPrize could take would be to work to fund the immigrant justice, pro-refugee, in Solidarity with the Muslim community and Sanctuary movements that are currently organizing in Grand Rapids. In other words, raise millions of dollars for these movements, money which we know they are capable of raising for an art competition, so that these movements can reduce the harm being done to immigrants, refugees and Muslims throughout West Michigan.

Failure to act on these four points means that the ArtPrize pronouncement is essentially meaningless.


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